Oct. 2, 2012
By Tim Miguel
At the end of the 2010 season, Shane Vereen decided to forego his senior season at Cal and throw his name in the hat of the 2011 NFL Draft, leaving the Cal football team without an experienced returning tailback.
Then a junior in 2011, Isi Sofele did a tremendous job taking over as the lead back, rushing for 1,322 yards on the ground for the sixth-highest single-season total in school history. But he got a little help last year, too, as junior college transfer C.J. Anderson emerged to give the Bears a solid one-two punch.
"Isi is like a best friend to me," Anderson said. "Just looking at Isi on the field made me hungry to get on the field, too. That's helped make me a better football player. 'Don't miss a beat.' That's what we call it. If I'm in, he knows no assignments will be blown on the field. When he's in, I know he's going to take one to the house. He's not going to miss any assignments either. So being best friends and having this little rivalry makes it fun."
Sofele agreed with Anderson that this duo works well together on and off the field.
"The way we compete in practice, coach Gould doesn't favor anybody out there," Sofele said. "You don't really know what's going to come out of it, but we're competing to the fullest. Off the field, we help each other with plays and try to get everything down. On the field, it's a straight competition. That helps us a lot. It feels like everything is second nature."
Before Anderson bonded with Sofele, he was just trying to latch on to a Division I school. A JUCO product of Laney College in Oakland, Anderson said he really benefited from the similar offense and strong coaching that Laney gave him.
All he needed was somebody to give him a chance.
Anderson got that opportunity from head coach Jeff Tedford, Gould and the rest of the Cal football family.
"C.J. learned what the expectations are for our group," Gould said. "He grew every single day. There's a level of expectation that we demand out of this group. He learned early on that I'm unwavering when it comes to being average. He bought into the system, what we're doing and what we're teaching. It takes a while to get acclimated and adjusted. He went through that whole transition of what I expected, learning the new system, going from having maybe 30 plays to 200, 300, 400 plays. It took a lot of time. In his defense, he's done a great job of embracing what we do, looking to improve every single day. I'm very proud of him."
The team's younger tailbacks like sophomore Brendan Bigelow and redshirt freshman Daniel Lasco can also sense how quickly Anderson was able to learn the playbook, pick up the offense and contribute, and are constantly seeking information and guidance from Anderson.
During training camp, Anderson, who roomed with Bigelow and Lasco, said the young pair kept trying to soak up all the knowledge they could from Anderson.
"Every night they're asking me questions," Anderson said. "They're trying to keep me up late and I keep telling them, `we need to sleep.' They try to keep me up late because they're asking questions, which is great, and I can give them the answers."
As the 2012 campaign continues, and Anderson teaches the younger backs while also aspiring to reach his own lofty goals of 1,200 rushing yards and double-digit touchdowns, he will also take time to reflect on the positive experience he's had at Cal.
"I feel like it's flying by fast," Anderson said. "Two years ago, I was at the JC level just trying to get some Division I team to look at me. Now I'm sitting here at Cal. Last year, I had a good season, but it wasn't my best season. I know I can do better. This season, I'm going to put it all out there. I don't have another year to come back. College football is fun. I have a lot of friends here that I'm going to miss. The atmosphere is great. The next level is just like a business, but I'm not trying to think about that right now."